Tammy Heon, Director of Tourism Development for Hernando County, gave a presentation on grants, local tourism industry statistics and Mermaids Trail expansion at the December 14 meeting for the Council of Commissioners County.
She began by presenting eight scholarships which she presented to the committee for approval. These grants are marketing grants from the Tourism Development Committee (TDC) for special events. Events range from one of Hernando County’s oldest events, Art in the Park, which turns 37 this year; At a relatively new event, the Central Florida Sportsman Expo. Heon shares, “We had a record 10 grant applications this year, two have since withdrawn due to changes in their operations. So we’ve given out those eight grants, for a total of $ 17,500, and we’re here for the Council of Commissioners to approve them. “
These grants are marketing grants, in particular reimbursement grants for advertising. Thus, the winners will remit all their advertising expenses with proof of payment after the event has been held. They must also make a report on the progress of their festival / event and from there they will be reimbursed. A motion was presented by Commissioner Narverud and a second by the Holcomb Commission. It was adopted unanimously.
Then Heon shared some of the successes and enthusiasms of tourism development over the past year. Heon says, “It’s been a strange year here with tourism, but we still had a good year. We have enjoyed all the perks of being an outdoor recreation destination during the pandemic. Some of the things that I thought were a little negative for us was that we didn’t have a big group company or a big international component for our marketing or our tours. Today this is a huge plus because we had none of that to lose and organizations that lost this type of activity are still suffering.
Heon said Hernando County has just had a record year of tourism development collections. TDT’s revenue this year is $ 1,527,068; Which is up 39.7%. In October 2021, hotel occupancy rates were up 28.2% and the average daily rate to date was $ 95.24, an increase of 22.7%. Vacation rental homes are booming, the occupancy rate is 73.3% and the average daily rate is $ 154, an increase of 7%. They use Host Compliance software that allows them to track and collect tourism development taxes from vacation rental homes. Heon says, “They are contributing significantly to our bottom line for TDC these days and without this income we wouldn’t be where we are today after this pandemic.”
Heon was delighted to report that they had found an affordable data program for their vacation rental homes so they have 602 listings currently available, 361 of them are listed on Airbnb, 241 on VRBO, 10 ago properties on both sites. With 602 units available, this will accommodate 3,694 people. About 150 of these units are two bedroom properties, 200 have three bedrooms and there are 2 listed as having 10 or 11 bedrooms. Heon says that with this data, she will be able to see booking trends and plan for the future.
Another business the Tourism Development Bureau has undertaken in the wake of the pandemic is an online virtual visitor center at FloridasAdventureCoast.com. It had a number of cool features to help people plan their trips like a personalized itinerary module that you could then share your trip and plans on social media sites or email etc. They organized six morning show programs, including; FOX 13 Good Day Tampa Bay, FOX 35 Morning Show, ABC Action News Morning Show and CBS Brightside. More than a dozen of their community partners have benefited from this coverage and visibility.
Heon shares that next year’s most exciting project for her is the Florida Mermaid Trail – Part 2. She says, “We’re going to build a trail with 6ft tall mermaid statues, the cost of maintenance. is also calculated in the cost of the statue. The trail will start at the Richloam general store and end at Bayport Park; I will put as many statues as possible in between. We will work with the arts council to make the artists jury , then paint the statues with one of our community business sponsors. ”